With the news that Vegas and Quebec were the only two cities to submit their $10-million application fee by yesterday’s NHL expansion deadline, it looks increasingly like potential ownership groups in Seattle & Toronto are willing to sit out a few rounds — or, more likely, that they’re happy with the idea of circling Arizona like vultures for the time being. In any case, Quebec and Vegas are all in. And, if everything goes smoothly (which, by NHL standards, would be shocking), we could potentially see a 32-team league opening up the 2017-2018 NHL season.
Obviously, there are lots of angles to explore when it comes to the league’s first expansion in 15 years (and the first expansion in a big-four league since the Houston Texans joined the NFL in 2002), and lots of thinkpieces to be had on expansion drafts, public spending on stadiums, and dilution of league talent. But for now, let’s focus on the practical side: where will the Quebec Nordiques 2.0 and the Las Vegas (some stupid gambling pun)s play?
Before I get started, let me just preface this by saying that there are probably a good 5-10 different ways you can arrange these 32 teams in a neat, logical way. Personally, I like this arrangement for a few different reasons. If you want to disagree, cool, knock yourself out. In any case:
- As is tradition, we keep the Western and Eastern conferences intact, with 16 teams apiece. Columbus will move back from East to West. (They were always an odd fit in the current Metropolitan Division anyway.)
- Each conference would be broken up into 4 divisions.
- Division winners are guaranteed a playoff spot, but not necessarily the top 4 seeds. The remaining 4 playoff spots are wildcards. God, I hope the Las Vegas team doesn’t call itself the Wildcards.
Here’s your division breakdown:
NORTHEAST DIVISION: OTT / MTL / QUE / BOS. Geographically tight, with potential for strong rivalries going all four ways. Could quickly become the league’s most hate-filled division, which would be fantastic.
METROPOLITAN DIVISION: NYR / NYI / PHI / NJ. “Metropolitan” as a division name always seemed a bit forced in its current iteration, referring to such famously metropolitan hubs as Raleigh, and Columbus. Here, the Metropolitan name finally makes sense in a division separated by a one-hour train ride. Practically a perfect division.
GREAT LAKES DIVISION: TOR / BUF / DET / PIT. These four teams have never played in a division together, but geographically, culturally even, look at this tight diamond-shaped division centered around Lake Erie and tell me it doesn’t excite you a little bit.
Sure, Toronto loses out on regular matches with Ottawa and Montreal, but that’s the nature of the NHL: teams move, divisions shift, rivalries transform. Hell, Toronto and Detroit used to be great rivals, until they spent a couple decades apart in separate conferences. Just look at the fresh rivalries that could emerge here, all between classic hockey-hungry fanbases within a 5-hour drive from one another, and get excited. (In a pinch, if a second Toronto team ever comes about, it could join this division and Detroit could spin off into the West.)
SOUTHEAST DIVISION: WAS / CAR / TB / FLA. This was a sensibly-built division back when Atlanta existed, but when the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, the rigors of geography made it so that the Jets awkwardly played in the Southeast for a spell. Today’s division sizes haven’t done the region any favours either, with Florida and Tampa nonsensically playing against Northeast teams. But now - I mean, as in our imaginary year 2017 “now” - that we’ve pruned down division sizes from five to four, this stands alone as an ideal four-team division.
You could make the case that Washington’s the odd one out here, that the Caps deserve to play in a more geographically appropriate division against a natural rival like Philly. And sure, you could swap Nashville into the Southeast in a pinch, making it a true country-fried Southern-flavoured division. At the same time, Washington had been lumped in with the Southeast division for ages, has developed a few burgeoning rivalries, and seems awfully proud of their many Southeast Division Champion banners. Lock ‘em in.
CENTRAL DIVISION: CHI / STL / CBJ / NAS. This could be a fun little diamond-shaped division. And, for at least the next few years, a pretty competitive one - I almost feel bad for throwing Columbus into this viper’s pit. If you want a lot of chippy, hard-nosed, fun hockey, I think this is going to become your new favourite division.
PLAINS DIVISION: WPG / MIN / DAL / COL. Right off the bat: if you’ve got a better name for this division, I’m all ears. It’s not quite West, not quite Midwest, and not quite Central. It’s a gerrymandered, incongruous mess of Canadian Prairies / Midwest / Rockies / South. I like the way I’ve set it up here for a few reasons, though. Many would lump the Jets into a four-way Western Canadian division, but I like splitting them up, and I want to force a rivalry with Minnesota on them, like a matchmaker of hockey hatred.
Really, if you’re going to have an issue with anything on my map, it’s probably going to involve this division. But, if you try doing a few switches and see how the domino effect plays out on the rest of the divisions, you’ll see how, at some point, the haphazard geography of the league necessitates some odd bedfellows.
NORTHWEST DIVISION: VAN / CGY / EDM / SJ. Another natural division, made interesting with the addition of the Sharks, which I’ll address in a second. I will say, though, that it’s absolutely anyone’s guess who’ll be winning this division in 2-3 years.
SOUTHWEST DIVISION: ARI / LAK / ANA / (THE LAS VEGAS BLACKJACK ACE SLOT MACHINE MAVERICKS). I know, right? Why split up the Battle Of California? Well, two reasons. For one, if we were to swap San Jose into this division, it leaves Vegas playing against the three Western Canadian teams. And, if Las Vegas is going to have a chance in hell of succeeding as a market (and for these purposes, I guess I have to pretend they do), they need to foster healthy, active rivalries with their closest geographic and cultural neighbours in LA and Phoenix — rather than having to fly to fucking Edmonton and Calgary every few weeks. Secondly, if the Vegas experiment does collapse and relocate, the switcheroo writes itself: the newly-christened Seattle team joins Vancouver and friends in the Northwest, while San Jose’s back in the Southwest.
As it stands, what this division lacks in rainfall, they’ll make up for with some wide-open hockey between the young Kings, the rebuilding Coyotes, the surprising Ducks and the expansion (Blackjack Baccarat High-Roller Strip Kings).
So there you have it. Disagree? Of course you do! Go disagree down in the comments.